Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bahrain's day of rage: Popular revolution spreads to the Gulf

By Karen Dabrowska

AS THIS issue of the New Worker goes to press around 3,000 pro-reform demonstrators have laid out blankets in the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, the Bahraini capital, where a massive pearl sits at the apex of a circle of inward-sweeping arches.
Bahrain is the first Gulf state to which the popular revolution has spread, inspired by the examples of Egypt and Tunisia.
Bahrain’s security forces foiled plans for a mass gathering in Manama on 14th February. Rubber bullets and tear gas were fired at demonstrators. More than 20 people were injured, two of them critically in clashes in Shia villages that ring the capital.
According to the Bahrain Freedom Movement columns of Saudi army trucks crossed the causeway between the two countries in the wake of the coming protests. "This Saudi intervention will have incalculable consequences", the movement's London spokesperson Dr Saeed Shehabi told the New Worker, emphasising that Bahrainis are determined to pursue their peaceful revolution.
Bahrain's Interior Ministry said those involved in the deaths of two people have been placed in custody. "We express our regret over those who died or were injured in the latest incidents and extend our sincere condolences to their families and to the people of Bahrain," a statement on the ministry's website said.
On 16th February thousands of people gathered for a peaceful funeral procession for Fadhel Matrook (31) killed when clashes erupted during another protester's funeral procession, Nabeel Rajab President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said. Demonstrators took the body from a mortuary and marched to a cemetery with no police presence on the streets.

While demonstrators gathered in the Shia villages, among them Diraz, Daih, Newidrat and Karzakan in Manama, supporters of the government honked car horns and waved Bahraini flags to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the referendum (14th February) in which 98.4 per cent voted for a constitutional monarchy in which the Emir would become “king” and the state would change the country’s name to the kingdom of Bahrain. This was a resurrection of the abandoned 1973 constitution. The emir took this popular mandate as a carte blanche to deliver a heavily edited version of the constitution in 2002.

The pro-reform demonstrations were organised by Bahraini youth on Facebook (over 8,000 members) and Twitter.

Nabeel Rajab emphasised: “We are only asking for political reforms, right of political participation, respect for human rights and and end to the systematic discrimination against Shias. All the demands are to do with human rights and nothing to do with the ruling family and their regime”. But he warned that if the government continues to resort to violence the people may be forced to demand a complete change of those in power.
In a declaration circulated on the internet, Bahraini Youth For Freedom stated: "Our demands and aims are constructive, our means are peaceful, and they are not stained with the sectarianism and division that the regime has sown over the years. There is no difference between Sunni and Shia, rich or poor, between Bahrani, Ajami, Houli or members of tribes – we are all Bahrainis.
We all sacrifice ourselves for this beloved land. Let us be proud that we emerged on this day to demand our right to a dignified life that embodies our legitimate rights, and to create a state that represents our aspirations and dreams.
The demands made on 14th February were: A new constitution written by the people and the establishment of a body that has a full popular mandate to investigate and hold to account economic, political and social violations, including stolen public wealth, political naturalisation, arrests, torture and other oppressive security measures, institutional and economic corruption.
Tension in Bahrain has been fuelled by the by the ongoing trial of 25 Shia activists, accused of plotting against the state. The detainees have alleged police torture and being forced to sign confessions. Their lawyers withdrew from the case after the judge refused to investigate the allegations of torture and appointed new lawyers whom the defendants rejected.

Although it did not comment directly on the protests the government is clearly worried. An injured 21-year-old protestor is being flow overseas for medical treatment. Last week King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa granted each Bahraini family the equivalent of nearly $2,700 and media monitors began talks with newspaper publishers to draft new rules to limit state controls. The official Bahrain New Agency launched a multi-media service.

Bahrain is a small oil-producing state in the Persian Gulf whose majority (70 per cent) Shia population have long complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa family. The ruling family is strongly supported by both Britain and America. The US Navy’s fifth fleet is stationed there.

In a statement on Twitter the protestors said: “We would like to stress that 14th February is only the beginning. The road may be long and the rallies may continue for days and weeks, but if a people one day chooses life, then destiny will respond.”

The immovable royal family faces the unstoppable force of pro-reform protestors led by Sunni and Shia youth.

* Comrades wishing to support the demands of the Bahraini people can contact ARRAIGN: The International Committee to Pursue Crimes Against Humanity in Bahrain set up in London on 20th October, 2010. The committee is campaigning for a fair trial for a British national, Jaffar Al Hasabi, who was imprisoned and tortured on trumped up charges of planning to overthrow the government. It is also working to bring Bahraini torturers to justice through due process of law.

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